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Lord of the Flies Historical Context
Transcript of Lord of the Flies Historical Context
The context of the novel means the circumstances at the time it was written. This includes the social, historical and literary factors that influenced what the author wrote.
Lord of the Flies Historical Context
World War II
- Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 and the war in Europe lasted for almost six years. In the novel Golding explores some of the ideas that lay behind the Nazi government of Germany. The German leader Adolf Hitler adapted ideas from science and philosophy for his own ends. Compare Hitler’s ideas of racial purity and the supremacy of the Aryan race with Darwin’s theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest (more details later in the course). On the island, the boys have varying degrees of physical and mental strength. You need to think about which characteristics Golding portrays as gaining supremacy. One of the most feared of the Nazi organizations was the SS (Schutzstaffel: defense corps). The SS was fiercely loyal to Hitler and was renowned for never showing human weakness. Millions of ordinary Germans were involved in the war and some carried out terrible atrocities without question. You may find parallels for this in the novel.
- During the Second World War, William Golding served in the British Navy, on several different ships, and was in charge of specially adapted landing craft for the D-day landings in Normandy, so he witnessed at first hand the horrors of war. He came to the conclusion that human beings are not naturally kind and that even children are capable of incredible cruelty if the circumstances demand or even simply allow it. Golding was interested in the way that violence can develop from innocent beginnings. Here is an extract from one of his autobiographical works, Scenes from a Life, in which he discusses such a childhood accident:
- Following the Second World War, Britain’s former ally, the Soviet Union, became the potential enemy of the West. Throughout the 1950s, people in Britain feared the threat of Soviet nuclear attack. The nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War brought home to people what nuclear war meant. Nuclear weapons located in Ukraine could have reached the UK in such a short time that few people would have survived even if British missiles had been fired as soon as the attack was detected. The nuclear stand-off became known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), as it would have led to the destruction of both attacker and attacked — no one could win. The novel is obviously set against the backdrop of a nuclear war. However, it also subtly explores the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction within its own plot.
Life in 1950s Britain
: Food rationing had been a part of British people’s lives since the beginning of WWII. The lack of food in people’s lives during the war and even post-war affected the way of life. Children had grown up not knowing about the large range of food that existed in the world. Meat and fruit such as oranges and bananas had to be imported and thus became a luxury.
: Large areas of British cities were destroyed because of German bombs. Though construction and revitalization was under way, many areas were still in bad condition. Everyday items like clothes were hard to get, so this idea of “keeping up appearances” was a very British way of dealing with hardships.
: Even after the war and the loss of the British Empire, class was still upheld. Working class people were still unable to rise in society into middle or upper class positions.
: aristocratic families
: professional business people
worked for a living – factories, shops.
The Cover and Title
What ideas and impressions do you get from the title and front cover of the novel?
Reflect on the possible meanings of the words and pictures
Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies was written in the early 1950s and published in 1954. The world in which it was written is different from the one in which we live today. In order to understand the book you need some knowledge of the context in which it was created. In addition, you should show a grasp of the context and setting when writing about the book as part of an English literature course.
I swung the bat in a semicircle, missed the ball but hit José with the wooden bat across the side of the head. Instantly he turned and ran for home, one hand holding the side of his head. I was the one who made a noise, anguished to think of the awful thing I had done. But he made not a sound. He always was the silent one. I trundled after him, whimpering and wondering what I should tell mam and dad, or what he would. I trundled back across the Common and down the road to the Green, my fears growing deeper. I can just remember them. I ended at the house, terrified and now as silent as my brother. I remember no more. But years later my parents told me that José had described the whole scene to them. He wasn’t really hurt they said. But I crept in to the house with my terror and hid from everyone else under the dining room table.
The title is meant to be a reference to the Devil or Beelzebub (the Hebrew word for the Devil), which is the God of the Fly (translated as Lord of the Flies).
The existence of evil is explored in many ways including: the idea of the beast, the boys’ degeneration into savagery and the background of the war.
Why would Golding choose this as a title?
What are some of your predictions for the plot of this novel?